Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Since I have Istanbul on my mind this week, I thought I would write another foodie post involving my last two trips to this magical city.

Though our travels always revolve around food, Turkish food is something that I miss and was more than happy to indulge in with our willing (and missed) friends. So here’s a rundown of some of the tasty places we tried for the first time or revisited for the umpteenth time in Istanbul.

Midye Dolması
In March, we introduced our skeptical American friend to eating midye dolması (stuffed mussels) off the streets in Beyoğlu. “Is it safe?” he asked us. To us, it’s just one of those things you MUST do in Istanbul, especially after you’ve had a few drinks. The street sellers will keep giving you more mussels until you tell them to stop. Then, you pay based on how many shells you emptied.
Turkish Etli Ekmek
Now, you don’t have to travel all the way to Konya to try this meter-long flatbread pizza. My friend’s Turkish husband, Kartal, treated me to a delicious etli ekmek at Ikonium in the Levent neighborhood. Of course, when I’m back in Istanbul, I must have an Efes beer too! Grab a friend or two because you’ll need them to help share this flatbread pizza!
Location: Aytar Caddesi Dilek Apartmanı No:28, Levent. 5-minute walk from Levent metro stop.

Turkish Grilled Meat
Our Turkish friend, Huseyin, loves good food as much as we do, so we had to try one of his favorite meat-centric places in Etiler. Before taking a seat at Nusr-Et Steakhouse, be sure to look in the meat showcase near the grill. Try the lokum (Turkish delight), spaghetti (thinly sliced beef) and sliced-to-order lamb ribs. The meat used comes from the Marmara Sea region. Accompany your meat with unlimited crispy fries and a salad. This fancy, crowded steakhouse is a place to be seen so don’t be shocked by your 100tl per person bill. (Note: we didn’t have any alcohol that night because local elections that day forbid it.) However, I think the experience is worth trying at least once!
Some of the best grilled rack of lamb I've ever had in Turkey!
And for dessert, don’t skimp on the pistachio baklava that is flown in fresh every day from Gaziantep and served tableside with a generous scoop of Maras dondurma. My mouth is just watering thinking about this heavenly baklava!
Location: Nispetiye Caddesi No:87, Etiler

Bosphorus Views on the Asian side
Once again, Kartal and his wife, Nicole, treated me to a special dinner at Del Mare. Half the fun was taking a free ferry boat from the Kuruçeşme Iskelesi (Pier) to the Asian side of Istanbul. This seafood restaurant is housed in a former 19th-century factory and features a splendid, canopied outdoor terrace with beautiful Bosphorus views. 
The menu features the typical Turkish mezes and fresh seafood. And for dessert, don’t forget to order irmik helvası, which is semolina cooked with butter and sugar and served with vanilla ice cream in the middle. Delicious!
Location: Kuleli Caddesi No:53 / 4, Çengelköy

Literally next door to Del Mare, you’ll find an unique concept at Tapasuma Restaurant where Turkish and Mediterranean food is served as bite-sized tapas in a modern setting. It’s definitely worth checking out if want to dine by candlelight away from the hectic crowds of the city. The restaurant is housed in a luxurious boutique hotel (a restored former raki distillery) in case you want to stay the night and wake up to these beautiful Bosphorus views as well.
Tasty mini versions of Turkish and Mediterranean food at Tapasuma.
Last year, we even got to peak into the kitchen and meet the friendly Executive Chef Gökay Çakıroğlu and his cooks at Tapasuma.
Location: Kuleli Caddesi No:43, Çengelköy

Beer Break under the Galata Bridge
After you’ve been sightseeing for several hours, you’ll definitely want to enjoy a break under the Galata Bridge. Sure, this area is touristy. However, I still love sitting under the bridge right by the water, sipping my Efes beer and people watching. Just make sure the café you sit at actually sells alcohol as several of them now have signs that say “alcoholsuz” (no alcohol).
Turkish Breakfast at our Hotel
The Turks are well known for their Turkish breakfasts! Luckily, we had breakfast included at the Anemon Galata Hotel where we stayed for 3 nights for about $100 per night. The hotel offers a fantastic location right by the Galata Tower and a lovely view over the Golden Horn where you can enjoy your breakfast or a glass of wine later at night.
Group Dinner with Friends
Sometimes, it’s simply easier to organize a group dinner with friends when we’re back in Istanbul. We met our friends at Yüzevler Kebap, a restaurant originally based in Adana, that features traditional Turkish kebabs and meze dishes. We enjoyed a good dinner and even better conversation catching up with our friends. But at 100tl per person, we don’t think we’ll be coming back here as the food didn’t live up to its reputation.
Location: Nispetiye Cad. No:10, Etiler

During my last three trips to Istanbul, I’ve made it a point to dine at Çiya. This last time, we tried a unique bulgur meatball soup and perde pilavi, a special rice dish from southeastern Turkey. The “curtain rice” as it is so called features a seasoned rice with raisins, pine nuts, almonds and chicken wrapped inside a crispy baked phyllo shell. It’s an uncommon dish, but one that I highly recommend if you find it on the menu.
Another Asian-side place we like to return to again and again is the yogurt shops in the small neighborhood of Kanlıca. Again, half the fun is taking one of the water taxis from Emirgan, especially after visiting the Turkish lale festival in the spring, to Kanlıca. Pull up a chair outside, order some of the best Turkish yogurt with a side of powdered sugar and a glass of tea. Enjoy!
Turkish Staples
You’ll find several locations of Günaydın Restaurant throughout the city. The restaurants feature well-made Turkish kebabs and meatballs, but last time, I thought the prices were a bit more hefty then what they used to be. Still it’s a good place to enjoy some typical Turkish dishes and a sinful künefe for dessert.
Location: Suadiye Mahallesi, Kazım Özalp Cad.

After reading about all these Turkish dishes and restaurants, I hope you’re ready to visit one of my favorite cities!

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Some days, I cannot help but be nostalgic for my old life in Istanbul.

Mostly, I miss my friends. I often see their friendly faces pop up on my computer’s screensaver. This happened the other day, and I was reminded of the luxurious (good-bye) brunch we enjoyed with our dear friends at the Çırağan Palace Kempinski last March.

If you want to splurge, I don’t think you could dream up any more beautiful location along the Bosphorus than the Çırağan Palace, a former Ottoman palace and currently a 5-star hotel in the Kempinski Hotels chain. The palace, located between the neighborhoods of Beşiktaş and Ortaköy, dates back to 1863-1872, when construction was completed.
In 1910, a raging fire destroyed the palace, leaving only the outer walls intact. Then, the palace served as a football stadium for the Beşiktaş team for several years and finally was restored a couple times in the last 20 years. The Kempinski chain returned the palace to its former baroque style filled with polished marble and elegant tapestries. We enjoyed walking around the hotel mesmerized by its grandeur.
 On Sundays, from noon to 4 p.m., the palace’s Laledan Restaurant hosts an amazing brunch featuring a breakfast buffet with more than 250 mouth-watering items, including sushi and made-to-order risotto or omelets. The brunch costs 140tl per person (about $100USD when we went) and includes a glass of sparkling wine as well as tea and coffee.

The brunch is served inside a magnificent room facing the Bosphorus with high ceilings and decorative tables and chairs. Throughout the room, you’ll see images of the Turkish lale (tulip). When the weather is warmer, I understand you can enjoy your brunch outside on the terrace.
Now, let’s head to the buffet! You’ll find many elements of the traditional Turkish breakfast such as several varieties of cheese and salami, dried fruits, nuts, jams, honey, breads and pastries. However, I opted for more the “exotic” items such as smoked salmon, fresh mozzarella with basil, risotto, freshly carved roast beef, curried chicken and the sushi bar. I was in sushi heaven!
I cannot even remember how many times we all went back up to the buffet to refill our plates!

Oh, also if you have children, like our friends did, you can simply drop them off in a nearby playroom and enjoy your luxurious brunch in peace! After brunch, you may want to let your child run off some of that extra sugar outside on the palace’s extensive grounds.
A long hallway is the perfect place for 3-year-old to run!
Of course, you must save room for dessert! The desserts are created by the talented William McCarrick, the hotel's Executive Pastry Chef and Master Chocolatier, whom I had the pleasure to meet in person in 2013, and his team. There’s even an entire “chocolate room” dedicated to delicious delights dipped and covered in milk, dark and white chocolate. I think I may have consumed a box of chocolate truffles by myself!
For pastry enthusiasts, you’ll also find a wide variety of mini desserts and petit fours.
More than a year later, I still have fond memories of this beautiful brunch and of course, our dear friends back in Istanbul!

Afiyet olsun!
Elena and me outside after brunch at the Çırağan Palace.
Hubby and me with a Bosphorus view in the background.
Don't you want to jump into this heated pool? 
Çırağan Palace Kempinski
Yıldız Mah.
Çırağan Caddesi No:32
Telephone: +90 212 236 7333

Friday, August 22, 2014

Day Trip from Warsaw

It’s difficult to believe that earlier this month we were hanging out on a fishing boat and soaking up the sun in our swimsuits.

Now, I’m sitting in my apartment wearing a jacket because the temperature has dropped from 90F to 60F. Welcome to our short-lived summer in Poland!

Well, when the temps were sizzling, we decided to escape the city with our good friends and drove out to the nearest lake. Zegrze Lake (Jezioro Zegrzyńskie), a large, man-made reservoir, is located about an hour northeast of Warsaw and is a popular place for Varsovians, especially on the weekends. Luckily, we left at 9 a.m. and had no problems getting out of the city.
Nothing but smooth waters and blue skies at Zegrze Lake in August.
Since the four of us wanted to spend the day on the lake, we decided the best way to do that was to rent a boat. After much online research and assistance from my husband’s Polish colleagues, we reserved a small, 10 horse-powered fishing boat through The staff here were very kind and spoke English well enough in person. As they were showing us how to work the boat, they made sure to stress that the driver should not drink beer or vodka, do drugs or smoke pot. We kind of laughed, but duh!
Meet our non-smoking, non-drinking boat captain for the day!
Our boat wasn’t the fastest, but the price couldn’t be beat – 350 pln for 8 hours. However, if you wanted to rent a speed boat with a captain and the option for wakeboarding, then the cost increased to 500 pln for ONE hour. And renting a sailboat requires a special Polish license.

So the four of us enjoyed zipping around the lake with our small fishing boat. My girlfriend and I hung our legs over the side of the boat to cool off. Hubby was our captain. We had packed a picnic lunch and enjoyed that on the boat as well.
We only stopped twice so our Texan friends could take a dip in the lake. I refrained because the water looked pretty murky and was full of floating snails. (Gross!) The second time we stopped at Klub Mila so we could use their clean restrooms. This cute hotel and restaurant would have been a nice place to stop for a drink, but hubby said no since he couldn’t enjoy one too.
This packed beach was located near the town of Serock.
Zegrze Lake seemed very popular for sailboats since it’s the closest location to Warsaw where you can do this watersport. Otherwise, you must drive 4 hours to the Mazury Lakes, which are supposed to be beautiful but are too far for a day trip.
If you are looking for a city escape and want to be surrounded by water, then head to Zegrze Lake. Just be sure to leave Warsaw early if you want to beat the crowds and awful traffic we saw as we returned to the city mid-afternoon.

Zegrze Lake, near the town of Serock, Poland
More info and an interactive map:

According to the Warsaw Tourism website, the lake may be reached by a number of city buses: 705, 734 or 735, which depart from the Żerań FSO loop; or take a PKS bus from the Dworzec Zachodni bus station.

Monday, August 18, 2014

I’ve been loving the summer season of Chanterelle mushrooms here in Warsaw!
Of course, I buy my Polish kurki at Hala Mirowska.
However, sometimes I get in a rut of how to cook these delicious, golden mushrooms known as kurek, kurki or kurka in Polish. The traditional Polish recipes often feature a lot of heavy ingredients like cream and butter. I wanted a healthier option.

Amongst my vast cookbook collection, I stumbled upon a 2011 August edition of Saveur Magazine that featured several recipes for different types of mushrooms. I decided to adapt Saveur’s recipe for a special Chinese dish called Jiyou Jun Bao Ji (Clay-Pot Chicken Stew with Chanterelles). I love Asian flavors and this recipe was just the inspiration I needed!

Instead of a clay pot, I used my trusty Le Creuset Dutch oven, but I’m sure any large cooking pot would work as well for cooking this scrumptious stew.

This dish is full of the rich Asian flavors of ginger, soy sauce, chilies and sesame oil that we both enjoy at home. Luckily, hubby is not picky and pretty much enjoys whatever I cook for us.

If you enjoy Asian flavors like us and find a batch of Chanterelle mushrooms at your local market, I’m sure you’ll enjoy this recipe too!

All the fresh ingredients ready to go.
My finished dish of Asian-Inspired Chicken Stew with Polish Chanterelle Mushrooms.
Asian-Inspired Chicken Stew with Polish Chanterelles
Serves: 4

500      g.                     Chanterelle mushrooms/mixed mushrooms, cleaned and trimmed in half if large
200      g.                     ham (I used Polish baleron), chopped small
1          Tablespoon      ginger, minced
1          Tablespoon      garlic, minced
1          Tablespoon      soy sauce
1          ea.                    jalapeno or Serrano chili, sliced in half
4          ea.                    green onions, cut in 1-inch pieces
4          tsp.                  granulated sugar
1          ea.                    large onion, chopped small
500      ml.                   chicken stock
1          kilo                  chicken legs and thighs
Optional:         4, small bok choy, sliced down the center, and chopped into 2-inch pieces

Cooked rice or brown rice vermicelli noodles for serving.

Dipping sauce:
4          Tablespoons    soy sauce
1          Tablespoon      cilantro, finely chopped
2          teaspoon          toasted sesame oil
2          teaspoon          ginger, finely minced
¼         teaspoon          ground black pepper

1. In a small bowl, whisk together the dipping sauce ingredients and set aside.
2. In a large Dutch oven  or pot, place all the stew ingredients. Bring to a boil. Cover, and reduce heat to medium-low so stew is just simmering. Cook for about 30 minutes.
3. Then, add the bok choy. Let the stew cook for another 10 minutes until the chicken is tender and cooked through.
4. Serve the stew over rice or noodles. Drizzle the dipping sauce over the top, at least that’s how we did it.
5. This stew works great as leftovers, but you might want to add a bit more chicken stock when reheating it.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

When I first wandered around the Borough Market in London, I was not impressed.

Being the month of December, perhaps only half the stalls were open, which should have been expected. Even with the Christmas décor, I simply didn’t feel like I was in my happy place as I usually am when I visit foodie markets. Should I blame that offset feeling on London’s gray weather?
The saving grace was visiting my favorite cheesemonger, Neal’s Yard Dairy, which has a storefront nearby on Park Street. This place is a cheese lovers paradise filled with specialty cheeses from the U.K. and Ireland! The U.S. restaurants I worked at used to buy some of the company’s cheeses, so that’s how I first was introduced to Keen’s Cheddar, Lincolnshire and Stichelton. Every time we visit London or a Londoner visits us, I stock up on my favorite English cheeses.
Fast forward seven months, in July, I tagged along on one of my husband’s business trips to London. I decided to repay Borough Market a second visit after talking to his London colleague who was crestfallen that I didn’t love the market too!

This time, the market was bustling with people, many tourists, of course. Simply put, Borough Market felt more alive than my first visit.
I tried some so-so pad Thai, but then I sampled some yummy Turkish delights from the friendly Turks.
The market features cuisines and products from all over the world including: Croatia, India, Italy, Spain and even American desserts.
The moist (nut-free) chocolate brownie I bought was easily the best I’ve had outside the U.S. except for my own, of course. I followed that sweet treat with a refreshing IPA beer at the nearby Wheatsheaf.
I wandered by several stalls selling fresh, seasonal produce.
The market had everything that any foodie would love! So this time, I was very pleased!

I still cannot put my finger on why I disliked the Borough Market so much on my first visit, but I’m happy I gave it a second chance.
The nearby Wine Wharf looked like the perfect place to spend happy hour, especially when it's buy one glass, get one free from 4-7 p.m.
Borough Market
8 Southwark Street, London (A short walk from the London Bridge Underground stop.)